Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
Finished reading on: 6/23/17
Actually, this book is part of a trilogy chronicling the colonization and terraforming of Mars. I went back and forth about whether to read the whole trilogy but I decided against it at this time. I have so many things on my list to read.
For this reflection I’m going to talk about some of the positive and negative aspects I found while reading.
Science fiction fans who are big on the actual science side of things will greatly enjoy this book. Like The Martian, the writer used a lot of research and theory on the human habitation of Mars to support his writing. If you don’t find that stuff interesting, you might be a bit bored at times. However, I appreciated most of time the writer spent in explaining some of the science behind what was going on. This effort on the writer’s part makes the book very believable.
Along the same lines, the process of colonization Mars and the problems that came along with it were very realistic. I think this was the novel’s strongest element. The writer used existing social concerns and tendencies and extrapolated what would happened as the world reached out to a new planet. Corporations are fighting the governments for control of resources, the governments are negotiating with each other over making policies on this neutral land, there are massive immigration issues people flee Earth’s problems to the new frontier, environmentalism finds a new outlet in fighting to keep Mars pure, the first colonists on Mars are fighting to make Mars a new society not simply an extension of Earth, and so on. Eventually, what happens is that some colonist disappear and start their own colony at the south pole of Mars and others start revolution against the corporations which are preventing anyone from formulating a new culture and society. Even though this book was written over 20 years ago, its vision of colonization is still very believable.
On the other hand, some aspects I did not enjoy as much. For instance I did not like the writer’s POV structure. It would have worked better to go with a more conventional shifting of POV character where chapters instead of whole parts were devoted to a character’s POV. For a great model of this style, take Game of Thrones. I particularly didn’t like this style because some characters got two parts and some only one which made the book feel very unbalanced.
I also found some of the writer’s prolonged descriptions boring and hard to follow particularly when describing the landscape. Part of this might be because the landscape is of course unfamiliar to a “Terran” reader. But also used some technical vocabulary which for a lay reader made it hard to imagine what he was talking about. I found myself zoning out during these descriptions, or long discourses on the travels of the characters and the scenery or talking about the different areas of Mars. His books would really benefit from a map of Mars so you could track and better visualize where the characters are especially since they travel around so much. Diagrams and other images would also be useful since his book is so technical.
Finally I really disagreed with some of his plot choices. For instance the beginning of the book starts with Frank’s POV and its set a bit later in the timeline. In this part we find out that Frank kills his best friend and fellow leader, John Boone. However, we never really find why he kills Boone or what he hoped to accomplish. We assume he killed Boone out of jealousy, but Frank is clever man, it would make more sense if he had killed him as part of some plot and it certainly looks that way at the beginning of the book but by the time we get back to Frank’s POV it doesn’t look like Boone’s death accomplished anything or was even part of some elaborate plan. In fact it seems like Frank immediately regrets this action even though it was clearly premeditated. I also thought that the last part of the book, where a small group of the first colonist travel down to the hidden colony at the south pole. This was a bad plot choice. It draws out the ending with a lot of useless activity and description. It’s like the ending of The Giver slowly and annoying.
Red Mars is certainly a good read though perhaps as not as finely crafted as other literary pieces. It’s strengths lie in it’s well researched scientific detail and interesting predictions on what a global effort to settle Mars would look like.
And it seemed to him as he drove on day after day that history was like some vast thing that was always over the tight horizon, invisible except in its effects. It was what happened when you weren’t looking – an unknowable infinity of events, which although out of control, controlled everything.